SAH News

Obituary: David Naylor

by User Not Found | Mar 01, 2013

An architectural historian, author of numerous books, and a consultant on America’s grand picture palaces, David Naylor died February 22 in Del Ray Beach, Florida, at age 57. His books captured his personal fascination with architectural subjects ranging from theaters to railroad stations.

Naylor’s two books on movie theaters—
American Picture Palaces: The Architecture of Fantasy (Van Nostrand Rinehold/Prentice Hall, 1981) and Great American Movie Theaters (Preservation Press, 1987)—helped spur public interest in preserving these lavish relics of the great age of film. Most of the photographs in these books were taken by the author as he traveled from cities to small towns across America. The latter title, a guidebook, pinpoints where readers can see and visit 360 cinema landmarks in their own states. The author previewed his love of these opulent theaters in a 1979 article, entitled “A Ticket to the World of Movies,” for the National Trust’s Historic Preservation magazine.

Naylor became an authority on the country’s elaborate picture palaces, working with the Theatre Historical Society and consulting on the preservation of various theaters. He served as guest curator for a 1982 exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City as well as the primary consultant for an accompanying film,
The Movie Palaces, produced by the Smithsonian Institution, featuring narration by Gene Kelly. For the America’s Castles TV series in 1997, Naylor coauthored a show on theater impresarios and movie moguls.

A longtime resident of Wilmington, Delaware, and the Great Barrington area of Massachusetts, he lectured on architecture and theater design for organizations ranging from the Society of Architectural Historians to the Renwick Museum in Washington, D.C. Naylor also wrote articles and monographs on signature theaters such as Sid Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian Theaters in Hollywood, the Fox Theater in St. Louis, and the Al Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, Naylor followed the revival of the Grand Opera House on Market Street. In 1997 he translated this parallel interest in legitimate theaters into the book
American Theaters: Performance Halls of the Nineteenth Century (Preservation Press/Schiffer), co-written with Joan Dillon and featuring 40 of America’s most notable historic theater spaces.

Naylor later captured his own love of travel in
Railroad Stations: The Buildings that Linked the Nation (W. W. Norton/Library of Congress, 2011). This book traces the development of one of the country’s most iconic building types, from whistle stops to engineering marvels such as Cincinnati’s Union Station. As with the movie theaters he documented, Naylor prided himself on visiting—by rail, highway, or byway—nearly every station and building he portrayed in his books.

In a feature published in the Travel section of the
New York Times (December 11, 2011), he related that to him, the view from a train was a sort of movie—a documentary on the history of a region. “I would say that compared to the fragmented views out of car windows and the miniaturized views out of planes, the meditative view out of a train window is even better than television,” he explained. And his favorite station? The Central Railway Station in Helsinki, Finland. “The building, by the architect Eliel Saarinen, can be seen as something of a late Art Nouveau, Finnish Nationalist masterwork, underlaid by a phenomenally efficient circulation system,” Naylor noted.

His last book focuses on a new interest: recycling.
Trash Backwards: Innovating Our Way to Zero Waste (Island Press, 2012) is an electronic book that examines the various kinds of trash Americans are producing in staggering quantities, profiling a range of innovative processes, people, and companies who are thinking creatively about how to reduce pressure on landfills and redefine what is possible.

At the time of his death Naylor was developing proposals for books on architecture in the movies, the reconfiguring of architectural modernism in the twenty-first century, and other subjects.

A 1977 graduate of Amherst College, Naylor held a master’s degree in the history of architecture from Cornell University (1990), where he wrote his thesis on the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park. He pursued additional graduate studies in architecture at the University of Washington (1985–87) and in architectural history at the University of Virginia (1993). He ventured to Australia to join a PhD program in architecture at the University of Queensland, where he also served as a tutorial assistant and a lecturer and researched the photography of midcentury architecture.

Naylor, who was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1955, was also a writer for People to People Magazine in Virginia Beach; Virginia; a field researcher for Weinstein Architects in New York City, recording historic Coast Guard facilities; the author of a music manual for Columbine Systems in Golden, Colorado; and an exhibition coordinator for the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority in Seattle.

He is survived by his mother, Sylvia Naylor of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania; brother David Cashell of Springfield, Pennsylvania; sisters Judy Cashell of La Canada, California, and Jane Cashell of Irvine, California; two nieces and four nephews; and countless friends on several continents. He will be greatly missed by all. Donations in his name may be made to the Theatre Historical Society of America (

Diane Maddex, Hon. AIA
Archetype Press


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Chicago, Illinois 60610